One of the protagonists in the novel. Taylor represents a kind of "mother bear" figure in the novel. Her fierce love for her daughter, drives nearly all of her actions in the book. Taylor is a tough, capable, and determined woman who nonetheless finds herself in a bad way when Turtle's custody is questioned. She is gutsy and strong, one in a long line of women who gets by on her own. Although Taylor enjoys Jax, Turtle motivates all of her decisions and actions.
The adopted Cherokee daughter of Taylor. When Taylor found her in a car on the Cherokee Nation three years prior, Turtle had been sexually abused, and appeared to be half-dead. Now a bright and charming little girl, Turtle still harbors fears of her past She feels threatened whenever she is separated from anyone, most of all Taylor. She sparks the beginning of conflict in the book when she insists that she saw a man who fell down from the Hoover Dam. Quiet and uncomplaining by nature, she was named for the snapping turtles in Kentucky that keep a firm grip on whatever they bite.
A young, gutsy law intern. Annawake has taken on Turtle's case as her personal cause. Fresh out of law school, she has returned to her home in the Cherokee Nation to fight against the injustices suffered by her people. Turtle's circumstances remind her of the way her brother Gabe was taken from the Nation. Viewed by her Nation as a beautiful, heroic "super brain" and by Taylor as a cruel warhorse, she complicates the novel by championing a communal way of life over individual values.
Taylor's mother. At the beginning of the book, she still lives in rural Kentucky, but she runs away from her old life when she comes out west to visit her daughter. She is a strong, lonely woman, craving a community that could provide her the comfort and warmth that her husband Harland cannot. Like Taylor, she has a spunky, determined spirit, and a strong love for her daughter and granddaughter.
Alice's husband. Does not provide his wife with the warmth and love she deserves.
A Cherokee man living in Wyoming. Cash suffers the losses of the women in his family, including his dead wife and daughter Alma. As Turtle's biological grandfather, he also suffers as the result of her disappearance from the Nation. Cash also is a little misguided. Like his name implies, he seems to always be concocting new get-rich-quick ideas, and is lured by the false promise of happiness that money brings. Cash knows how to cook and loves to talk; he also has a strong sense of home rooted in the Cherokee Nation.
Taylor's boyfriend. He worships everything about Taylor, and only wishes that she could return his steadfast adoration and love. A songwriter and member of the band "Irascible Babes," Jax is kindhearted and easy-going. He also loves and is adored by Turtle. Jax is able to provide a more objective perspective about Turtle's situation. Although he does everything to support Taylor, he can see both sides more clearly.
The instigator for the novel's plot. Mentally retarded, Lucky is a grown man living with his mother, and has a habit of running away from home. His descent down the side of the Hoover dam sparked Taylor and Turtle's decision to hunt down a rescue team, and thus instigated the media onslaught that alerted Annawake of Turtle's situation.
Annawake's twin brother, who was separated from their family and the Cherokee Nation when they were ten. He represents the fate of Cherokee children who leave or are taken from the tribe. Confused and frustrated by his ethnic identity, he fell into a life of crime and sadness.
The face on the Life magazine advertisement. She was photographed on the Cherokee Nation, in front of a sign that read "Welcome to Heaven," the small town where she has lived for all of her adult life. Sugar and Alice are second cousins, and were close companions growing up. Now a grandma, Sugar is still kind and warm, and loves her home and family on the Nation.
A nutty waitress in Las Vegas. She has committed her life to worshipping Barbie dolls. She owns all Barbie's clothes, and knows every doll ever on the market. Barbie is also a petty thief, stealing from her employers and Taylor. Her obsession with living Barbie's life has also driven her acquire an eating disorder.
The landlord in Rancho Copo. Jax and Taylor's community on the outskirts of Tucson. An acclaimed local artist, she spends much of her time wandering around the desert naked. When Taylor leaves, she tempts Jax into a sexual affair.
Annawake's uncle, who she lived with after Gabe was taken away from their family. Ledger is also the tribal chief. He is wise, unassuming, and humble.
The owner of the jewelry shop where Rose works. Although Mr. Crittendon has made a fortune, his devastation over the loss of Native American culture drives him to suicide.
Cash's sister and the nosiest woman in Heaven, Oklahoma. Lettie helps orchestrate the love affair between Cash and Alice.
One of Heaven's most eccentric personalities. Boma's crazy creativity and wisdom would not be valued in white American society. On the Cherokee Nation, she adds an invaluable element to her community.
Lawyer on the Cherokee Nation, and Annawake's boss. A self-described "born- again" Cherokee, he feels a little guilty that he is not a better mentor for Annawake. Although he no longer possesses Annawake's youthful idealism, but he shares her reverence for the Nation.
Cash's daughter, who committed suicide. She was Turtle's biological mother.
Social worker responsible for Turtle's case. He is kind and gentle, without the professional airs that Taylor thinks is typical for social workers.
Annawake's brother and sister-in-law. They are a classic example of the way the Cherokee value all kinds of family configurations. Although they are divorced, they keep having kids together, and love them dearly.
Cash Stillwater's girlfriend in Wyoming. She pretends every day to string beaded jewelry in the window of a tourist shop, and always seems to be trying a little too hard to attract the attention of men.
Lucky's mother. She is another example of a mother who would give anything for her child.